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Made With Love

Made With Love

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Cooperativa Sociale Francesca creates a community


URBINO, Italy – Laughter travels down the gravel path from the entryway, and summer evening sunlight streams through the windows of Cooperativa Sociale Francesca. Workers rush in and out of the kitchen, as the aperitivo is about to be served. Manu Magnoni, whose cousin Zaccheo* is among the hard-working servers, pauses for a moment before explaining why he and his wife, Sarah, have come to the event. Tears fill his eyes as he says, “It is the first place I go whenever I return to Urbino.”

Cooperativa Francesca, located on the northern edge of Urbino, is an organization that employs young adults with intellectual and physical disabilities, but it is much more than a charity. Outsiders may be surprised to learn that the organization, housed in a quaint, classic Italian building, holds a multi-business workshop and a restaurant. At the Cooperativa, young adults with disabilities are given the chance to learn and exercise skills that promote creativity and individuality. Whether in the upstairs workshops crafting ceramics and wedding favors, or downstairs in the restaurant prepping meals or serving guests, these services benefit not only the workers but the entire community.

Barbara steps out of the kitchen to announce the next course at the Cooperativa’s event, Il Buono del Bene (the greater good). Photo by Aneleise Johnson.

“They are all immensely skilled,” says the organization’s director, Antonio Bernardini, smiling. He recalls a debate among the staff about which workers were best suited for which jobs, claiming it was pointless to argue because they are all talented in their jobs. “It is the joy of seeing the workers doing what they love and doing it well,” that, Bernardini says, makes the organization special. That, he says, is the message that Cooperativa Francesca hopes to communicate to the public: “Everything we do, we do with love.”

Cooperativa Sociale Francesca was originally part of a larger education program, founded in 1992. In 2000, when Antonio Bernardini became the director, it became an independent organization. This shift to make ​​the Cooperativa independent from the education center resulted in the organization becoming a legitimate company where the members of the larger education center could practice their working skills and interact with the community. Cooperativa Francesca received its name after the passing of a beloved member of the education center, Francesca.

There are usually 16 workers with disabilities at Cooperativa Francesca, but fewer have been active in the past couple of years due to COVID. Staff members along with volunteers assist the workers in learning new skills and improving their performance. The first service the organization provided was the creation of wedding and ceremony favors, called bomboniere, which include ceramics and other hand-made products. In 2021, the organization opened a restaurant on the first floor of the building where workers could learn the fundamentals of cooking and serving. “Ceramics used to be my favorite, but now I love to serve in the restaurant,” says Zaccheo, who has been working for the organization since 2010.

“It is the joy of seeing the workers doing what they love and doing it well,” that, Bernardini says, makes Cooperative Sociale Francesca special.

On a typical day, Zaccheo and his fellow workers arrive at the Cooperativa at 8:30 a.m. by bus, getting straight to work on ceramics and ceremony favors in the upstairs workshops. While diligently painting, stitching, folding, and carving, the workers chat about wanting to go to the beach to escape the heat. “I like that we are all close,” says Barbara, while folding aprons with her coworker. After a brief break, it is time to begin work in the restaurant for lunch customers. “This is most workers’ favorite part of the day because they get to interact with the community,” says staff member Silvia Amadori. The workers’ day typically ends at 3 p.m. unless there is an event that evening that they need to work.

Amadori says employees with disabilities choose Cooperativa Francesca over similar organizations “because they feel a greater independence at this one, they feel like they are working like anyone else.” Though it is not the goal of the organization, employees will occasionally move on to work elsewhere, but it can be difficult. In one case, an employee tried working somewhere else but returned because, unlike his supervisors at Cooperativa Francesca, his new boss did not respect the amount of time it took him to complete tasks.

Workers assemble wedding favors, or bomboniere, which are among the Cooperativa’s most popular products. Photo by Grace Clukey.

The organization regularly hosts events for the community in the evenings, like the one that Manu and Sarah Magnoni are attending that summer evening. The event, called Il Buono del Bene (The Greater Good), is a five-course dinner for about 50 funders and supporters. Volunteers Tiziano Rossetti, chef of Osteria L’Angolo Divino, and Raffaele Papi, a sommelier, guide the workers in plate presentation, pairing wines to each course, and serving the guests. Papi, also a cousin of Zaccheco, says he volunteered because of his appreciation for the organization that has given so much to his family.

Prior to each course, a worker comes out of the kitchen to announce the food and wine. “I am nervous and excited to be speaking in front of you all,” says Barbara before delivering the name of the next course: “Pinzimonio Ecco! Scusate, data l’emozione un po.” (“Here is Pinzimonio—raw vegetables with dressing! Sorry, having a moment.”) When the dinner ends, coffee is served and guests begin to walk around admiring the artworks and trinkets for sale. At this moment Zaccheo and Magnoni share a hug, delighted over the night.

At the end of the evening, the workers and volunteers stand together, thanking the guests for helping make the night a success. The workers’ faces light up with joy as a round of applause fills the room.

Infographic by Anelise Johnson

*For privacy reasons, Cooperativa Francesca asked that the last names of their workers not be used.

Translation of interviews and other language assistance by University of Urbino student Lucia Piazzalunga.